Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

I don’t eat rhubarb though I’m sure one day I will.  Kind of like “when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.”  Or as Holly Golightly said about diamonds,”It’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re 40; and even that’s risky … they only look good on the really old girls … wrinkles and bones, white hair and diamonds.  I can’t wait.”  My sentiments exactly.   With diamond tiaras and crowns of rhubarb in my stars, I look forward to being a woman of a certain age.

My Great-Grandma Sorensen grew rhubarb outside the back door just off the kitchen of her home in Harlan, Iowa.  She loved it, especially with strawberry.  Each summer, she would stock her pantry with strawberry rhubarb jam and cover her windowsill with strawberry rhubarb pies.  My Great-Grandpa had no objections.  For her, strawberry rhubarb was the most winning combination.  For him, he was the biggest winner.  This year, in memory of her, I’m going to pick up where she left off.

Though the distance between what used to be Great-Grandma Inez’s house in Harlan and my in-laws’ in Buckinghamshire is 4,219 miles, there is one thing about these places that’s exactly the same.  The summer rhubarb.  At the far end of my in-laws’ English garden, past the flowerbeds and my daughter, the Weekend Primrose Fairy, who conjures magic with camellias for wounded ladybugs. . . beyond the bramley apple tree laden with blossom that will (fingers crossed) bring us a bumper crop this September. . . after the greenhouse sheltering sweet peas and cherry tomatoes . . . next to the squash, sorrel, and kale. . . is a row of regal scarlet rhubarb.  This weekend I made several crumbles.  Below is the recipe.  I hope you enjoy it.  Actually, I hope my Great-Grandma would have enjoyed it.

Sorensens

primroses

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garden bramley apple tree

best blossom rhubarb in the garden rhubarb growing

Ingredients:

fruit filling:

2 stalks of rhubarb, chopped into 1 1/2 – 2 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and halved

1 teaspoon crystallized ginger, chopped

3 tablespoons brown sugar

crumble topping:

1/3 cup Demerara sugar

1 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup flour

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

a pinch of salt

Method:

Preheat oven to Gas 5/375ºF/190ºC.

Place the rhubarb and strawberry pieces in a small ceramic baking dish.  Add the brown sugar and crystallized ginger.  Gently stir to mix.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the butter, flour, oatmeal, sugar, and salt.  Rub with your fingertips until it forms a coarse meal.

Sprinkle the topping over the fruit and bake for an hour or until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.

Serve with creme fraiche, Greek yogurt, ice cream or whatever you like.  And to eat it like my Great-Grandma did, be sure to have it with a game of Scrabble.

windowsill crumble

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Fireworks, Fruit Pies, and Words for Miss Fairchild

“A woman happily in love, she burns the soufflé.  A woman unhappily in love, she forgets to turn on the oven.”  Or so says the Baron Saint Fontanel to Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina in the eponymous film.

Let me say that throughout most of my twenties I never burnt a single soufflé.  What I did do was date.

Things didn’t work out with Pony.  He was too much of a stoic.  He was  also a vegetarian which wasn’t a problem in and of itself except that we would fight about it.  We would argue about hypothetical holiday dinners as I was unwilling to serve our unborn hypothetical children tempeh at Christmas and he wasn’t about to sit a table that had a roast animal on it.  I got him hooked on Judy and Bing while we dated.  Post-break-up he sent me a text message, “I’m playing $10 worth of Judy Garland on the jukebox right now.”  I’m sure his soccer buddies at the pub loved that.  Like most long distance relationships ours had no chance in hell.  It didn’t help that his was the toughest shell to crack.  Finally, when I got to the center, I realized I didn’t want what was there.  He’s the one I wanted to be something else.

Cap’n America.  In fifth grade, he decided that he wanted to be a Christmas Elf or a comedian.  At 29, he wrote scripts for cartoons.  He was like a golden retriever puppy that only wanted to please.  Which could seem endearing except that he consistently embroidered the truth to make himself appear the good guy.  Or sometimes he’d just flat out lie.  Like when he told me he was going to Vegas because he had seats for a fight that he didn’t know I knew was taking place in Madison Square Garden.  Imagine Eddie Haskell as an Abercrombie model.  Can’t stand him, right?  Eventually, neither could I.  His charm was his best and worst quality.  He played Scrabble with my 90 year old Great-Grandmother.  He talked sports with my uncles.  He entertained all the young children in my family until their various bedtimes.  One day he freaked-out about how different we were.  He said, “I wear jeans and Chuck Taylors.”  To which I replied, “So do I.  What’s the difference between your Chucks and mine?”  He got very serious then said, “Mine are functional.  Yours are just ironic.”  I tried to soothe him.  “No, they’re not.  My Lacoste is ironic.”  He’s the one that chased me out of the village I didn’t even want to be in.

Cracktor.  That’s a portmanteau of crack-head actor.  He loved gifting suites, leased luxury cars, and cocaine.  He was Italian-American and had sparkly blue eyes.  Or at least they sparkled when he wasn’t on drugs.  The first time I heard him play piano I cried.  The passion that pounded through him and into those keys was overwhelming.  He liked to dance to Louis Prima in the kitchen.  When he got wasted, he’d tell me, “This is me being totally honest.  I’m so vulnerable right now.”  Seldom was that the case.  He just liked delivering monologues.  Once after we stopped seeing each other, he called to say he was tripping his balls off and about to rip out his hair and that he needed me to come play Florence Nightingale.  Like a self-flagellating masochist, I came to his rescue. When I got to his house with sandwiches and San Pellegrino, he crawled into my lap like a kitty and cried.  His Blackberry kept buzzing with text messages from a certain CW starlet who wanted to know what happened to him?  Where did he go?  When was she going to see him next?  In the middle of all this buzzing he said, “I hate you, Misti.  I hate that you’re the only person I wanted to call.  I hate that I want to see you everyday.  I hate how you have the correct answer before I’ve even asked the question.  I hate how comfortable you make me feel because it’s uncomfortable being so comfortable.  Mostly, I cherish you and that only makes me hate you more.” Yes, that’s all verbatim as I recorded his ramblings on my phone.  He’s the one whose post-breakup call I never should have answered.

Grandpa.  He was great on paper and if you couldn’t guess, he was a little older than me.  16 years older.  He claimed Gypsy roots and said his family hailed from Eastern Europe.  He was an ex-rocker turned screenwriter who liked playing Norman Mailer to my Norris Church.  He had never been married or engaged.  That should have been my first red flag.  By design, real intimacy was never an issue.  He created the busiest schedule for himself so he didn’t have time to let anyone get close.  When not writing, he’d fill the rest of his days with all kinds of lessons and activities–acting, French, music, pilates, boxing, whatever.  He would call when he missed me.  And that’s when the vicious cycle would start again.  He would wine and dine me and talk about moving out of L.A.  and maybe having babies.  Then when he’d start to feel himself falling in love, not that he ever said he loved me, he would disappear only to call again after a few months–generally after having just spent a weekend with his married friends and all their charming children.  He was a recidivist romantic and as useful as a trapdoor on a canoe.  He’s the one who liked me best living in the margins of his life.

One year, on the 4th of July, Grandpa fully stood me up.  For hours I sat in a silk, slate blue, Catherine Malandrino dress, eating steak and heirloom tomatoes, drinking champagne by myself while the gardenias in my hair wilted and died.  The tableau was that of a Tissot painting gone horribly wrong.  Darkness fell and I scooped up my dog and took her outdoors.  Apropos of the occasion, we were dancing around to Animal Collective’s Fireworks when all these glittery colors streaked across the sky.  That’s when it hit me.  I was sparkly enough on my own.  And to be honest, really quite happy not having to share any of the ginger peach or dark chocolate cherry pies I made earlier that afternoon.

When the pyrotechnics ended, I scooped up my dog and went back inside.  We snuggled in bed with the rest of the champagne and watched Sabrina.  And when that famous soufflé scene came up, I noted the Baron St. Fontanel forgot something crucial when addressing Miss Fairchild.  A woman’s only options are not to be happily or unhappily in love.  She can also be happily not in love and eat all the soufflé (or pie as the case may be) until the right man who deserves a taste comes along.  And that’s exactly what I did until I went to London the summer of 2009 for what was to be a 10 day trip from which I never returned.

Whatever Abner Doubleday (A Cracker Jack recipe)

Baseball diamonds are not romantic.  The attire is too casual.  Which is strange because it is known as The Gentleman’s Sport.  Let me tell you.  I have attended games.  I have sat in the bleachers.  There is nary a gentleman nor a pocket square among them.

I prefer sports like boxing that are openly barbarous yet full of glamour–none of this pretending to be a gentleman shit.  Knocking out another guy’s teeth is sexy.  So sexy, women have always donned stilettos and stoles for the event.  In my grandmother’s day, you knew you were in for a treat if your honey said “Hey baby, here’s $50 for the beauty parlor ‘cause tonight Marciano’s gonna beat the crap outta La Starza!”

Nothing about America’s Pastime makes me amorous.  Dirty-water hot dogs cannot compare to a filet from Sardi’s.  Stadium lighting is so unflattering that even a glowing young woman can look like a hag.  If I’m going to a game, I have to make sure my concealer provides me with more coverage than Syria on CNN.  I recommend Clé de Peau.  Did I mention the sound of metal bats makes my teeth ache?  All baseball has to offer are pre-nuptial agreements to pretty girls, V.D., boredom, sunburn, the inhalation of dust, and frowzy fans who’ll spill beer on your shoes—none of which makes me want to hold anyone’s hand.  So yeah, I was surprised when the seed to one of my romances was planted on a field. 

Many moons ago, I shot an independent film down South, a film I am sure went straight to BETA.  My co-star, the lead of our Mickey Mouse production, became a friend of mine.  Our off-camera occupation was playing Scrabble and draining bottles of Bulleit over cloudy motel ice.  One particularly sweaty sunset, we perched on the terrace smacking mosquitoes from our skin and plotting how to outdo the other by using only two-letter words.  He took a drag from his American Spirit, the kind that comes in the light blue box.  I remember the color because it is my favorite shade of blue.  Tiffany box blue.  Smoke curled from his lips and nose.  He paused the way you do before laying the smack down with a fifty-point bingo.  The Scrabble equivalent of death by guillotine.  But instead of placing all his tiles on the board, he grabbed a piece of his early 80’s Johnny Depp inspired hair and rolled it in his tobacco stained fingers like a naughty schoolgirl (P.S.  This coiffure was his pride and joy, an asset that almost awarded him the role of young Elvis in the made for TV movie).  After a minute, he asked.

“You notice John can’t stop looking at you?”

“Excuse me, who?”

“The First A.D.  It’s true.  He stares at you long after the director calls cut.”

Since this was a baseball movie, our backdrop was a dusty field most days.  The morning wardrobe dressed me in embarrassingly tiny white shorts was no exception.  I complained that I felt naked and whorish.  Costume design argued on behalf of young and coltish.  So I convinced myself I wasn’t slutty, just a baby Mustang who didn’t know any better, and decided to make peace with the hearts embroidered on my back pockets.  When it came time to shoot, camera followed me down a dirt path and watched me study my co-star pitch baseballs to his curmudgeonly grandfather, Pop.  I wrapped my fingers through the diamonds of the chain link fence high above my head and swung my hips from the hold.  As the director called cut, I looked over my shoulder to see who was staring.  Pony.  Short for Ponyboy Curtis because that’s who he was.

Except he wasn’t Pony yet.  Not to me.  Blatantly black Irish, he had the same cherry cola waves I smoothed into submission with Kérastase everyday.  I could tell he was a runner the way his sinews looked like rubber bands twisted over sticks.  He was tiny but strong and I liked the colorful tattoos on his arms.  I felt like a doe-eyed Sandy in Grease.  Pre-hooker-makeover.  I had never piqued an interest in a man who used his skin as a canvas before.  He even had a nose ring.  I threatened to get a nose ring.  Once.  In the tenth grade.  But it never happened.  This was a man who followed through.  And he was from Brooklyn, which was the opposite of L.A.  A fact that made him exotica to me.

Of course it didn’t work out.  I was 24 and he was a vegan with tattoos and a nose ring but more on that later and kind of who cares?  The point is when I got home from work, Cora, the wife of the proprietor where we were staying, had like an angel, put some homemade Cracker Jacks in my room–being as it was a baseball movie and all.  Here is her recipe.

Ingredients: 

1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels

1/2 stick of butter which is about 56.7 grams

1 cup Spanish peanuts

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 1/2 tablespoons molasses

a drop of vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

Method:

First, make your popcorn stovetop in a little olive oil and a bit of butter.  Next, preheat your oven to 300F/148.8C.  Put the popcorn with the peanuts in a paper grocery bag and set aside.  Then add all remaining ingredients EXCEPT the vanilla to a sauce pot.  Stir the mixture over medium heat until it begins to boil.  After 15- 20 minutes, the color should be deep caramel.  If it’s not, let the mixture keep on bubbling and you keep stirring.  I never use a candy thermometer.  I just eyeball it, but if you’d like to use one then feel free.    What you want to reach is the hardball stage which is roughly 260-275F.  When you think the caramel sauce is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Don’t be shocked if it sputters.  Now, carefully pour the mixture over the popcorn and peanuts in the paper bag.  Stir with a wooden spoon to distribute the caramel goodness.  Lastly, transfer the popcorn and peanuts to a cookie sheet and bake for no more than 15 minutes.  Mix well every 5 minutes to make sure the popcorn and peanuts are evenly coated.  I would say cool and store, but if you’re like this Chubby Princess there won’t be a single kernel left.